Perhaps the most iconic name in all of cannabis, Tommy Chong is best known for his role in the classic Cheech & Chong movies that set the stage for the future of cannabis comedy. A tireless cannabis activist, Tommy Chong has continued his career in the cannabis industry to this day, and is now leading a well-branded line of cannabis products called Chong’s Choice.
Boris Moshkovits: You have been a big supporter of legalization in the US for the past decades. Now do you feel the struggle is over or is there still lots to do?
Tommy Chong: There‘s not that much to do here, it‘s just everybody has to catch up with what‘s going on. In America we have now president Trump trying to stay out of jail. He’s got legal people that go after pot, but basically we’re just in a sort of holding pattern for pot, because even though we got it a growing legal medical market, a lot of opponents are trying to make it difficult for recreation. But these are all dinosaurs, just sliding into the abyss.
Boris: Has media helped to get the message out?
Tommy: Absolutely, it was CNN that put on a show with Dr Sanjay Gupta, who’s a brain surgeon. He investigated and found a little girl that was just a year old and suffered from epilepsy. She had strokes every few minutes. They found out that if you treated the seizure with CBD oil, the marihuana oil, the seizures would go away. Sanjay Gupta heard about it and reported it on CNN. It was very touching. The little girl had never hugged her mother because she was always having seizures. After they gave her the marihuana oil, she could hug her mother for the first time. That incident just changed so many minds in the world. They saw how effective marihuana is as a medicine.
Are there other examples for the effectiveness of Cannabis therapy, that you know of? How did these stories change the medical approach and perception in general?
There were many other anecdotal incidents regarding MS for example. People with MS like Montel Williams, he’s a broadcaster here in the US, very right-wing sort of republican type, ex navy seal veteran, who had MS. But because Montel smoked so much marihuana, he could live a normal life. He could skateboard, windsurf, do snowboarding, he could do all the activities that normal MS-patients couldn’t do because they could hardly walk or they’d walk with a cane. So all this piled up and then the medical profession had to take a look at it.
Are you aware of cases, where cannabis not only eased the symptoms, but actually fought the cancer cells?
There were reports of incidents where skin cancer was cured by applying marihuana right to the affected area. Marihuana oil killed the cancer cells. And I myself treated my rectal cancer. After the operation, I did a ton of marihuana and I still do. The healing of cancer with marihuana became very serious because not only is it a medicine but it‘s also relatively inexpensive compared to the other pharmaceuticals that didn’t really work that well but yet were the only thing that the doctors would prescribe. This miraculous plant has changed the dynamics of the entire world. And it’s changing so fast that the people that oppose it can’t keep up with it. It’s just steam rolled over everybody.
You were there in the beginning when this was still sort of a looked down upon lifestyle. Here in Germany we still have that contradiction, for us it‘s now moving from drug to medicine but the leap to lifestyle is a big one. How did that go about in the States? How was the development from medical to recreational or adult use?
It’s very tough for these old-time politicians, for the old guard, the pharmaceutical companies, the law enforcement and people like that, they’re the ones that really took a beating. The DEA for instance, that was a billion dollar funded agency, and now we don‘t need them. Now it‘s all changed, like in Detroit for instance. Michigan used to be a very strict state. We were there for a conference. I had some fans give me some plants to come back with, some buds, and we got stopped at the border. Because they were in a sealer jar they started treating us like we were dope smugglers. So I told them who I was and my son did too and then we told them that this is medicine and that I have a medical card. To be honest, I never had it on me, but I have the card and I told them that we could fax it to them.The captain looked at us and said just fax me the card and you can go. He even gave us back the marihuana, so that‘s Detroit and that‘s what‘s happening all over America now.
Things are changing. You had a run-in with the law yourself at some point…
It was the time of the Iraqi War and Bush needed some diversion so they went after the bongs. Bush went on television and said the bongs were supporting terrorism, the profits from our bongs and from the drugs were going to fund terrorism, which was a total lie. They arrested me and I went to jail for nine months for selling water pipes. In fact, it wasn’t my company, so really they had no evidence on me but they threatened to put my wife and son into jail if I didn‘t cooperate, so I did. But it backfired on them, the press was so positive for me and very negative against them.
Did you end up in a white-collar retreat?
Oh yes, they sent me to camp. I had a lot of people, friends, that had been in jail and they always came out looking really fit because all you do is work out and eat right so I looked forward to being in jail. I turned it into a religious retreat. I had a lot of time to explore different religions, which I did, so I ended up joining an Indian sweat lodge, and I learned about the Sioux-tribes and their method of worship. So I really turned it into a plus. It really helped, I wrote a book and I had helped another famous guy write his book, which ended up being a hip movie, called the Wolf of Wallstreet.
What about your own movies? There‘s been rumors about a sequel to Up in Smoke for the last couple of years, how do you feel about it?
We tried to get a movie going, but the relationship between Cheech and I deteriorated over the years. He just put out a book, it’s called Cheech Is Not My Real Name … But Don’t Call Me Chong. So in the book he explains his version of why we broke up. He called me a megalomaniac, which to me was a compliment because I do think that I’m God, I really do. I do have a God-complex. But the reason we never do movies is because I wrote and directed all of the movies in one way or another.
You are being a spokesperson. You partnered with ICBC early on with Alex Rogers. Is this conference a place where you feel comfortable, leading and meeting, or is it already becoming too much big industry?
When pot started going into the serious mode and they needed celebrities like myself to bring attention, more than anything, to headline a conference, my notoriety as a movie star and as a pot activist, as a jailbird, that all helped, and then I really get a thrill and a kick out of talking to people on a spiritual level. I relish it, I love talking to people about this, and it‘s not really me talking, it‘s the weed. I get high and next thing I know is I get all these weird and nice ideas and I love to share them with people.
You mentioned your spiritual interests. Do you think that cannabis can be part of a Tikun Olam as it is called in Judaism, a sort of a betterment of the world or the repair of the world?
For sure, it’s the burning bush that Moses talked to. God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush. Well that‘s the burning bush that we talked about. Moses led its people, he was a shepherd and he became leader of a whole nation with the help of that burning bush. He led them single-handedly through the Red Sea. You talk about a negotiator: Moses was the best. Parting the Red Sea, I think someone took a bit of artistic freedom right there, but I think that if you smoke the right stuff, you can, either metaphysically or physically, do a lot of things. We all breathe the same air, we all bleed blood and we‘re all connected, we‘re all from the same source, regardless of what you believe.
Absolutely. What will you talk about in Berlin next week?
Well, a little bit of everything. A bit of politics in the States, with Trump doing his thing, it depends on where Trump is, if he‘s still out of jail or if he got impeached. I really think Trump was God-sent, you know the God of comedy sent him down for us. I’ll speak about my life, my observations, my movies, I’ll take questions, because that‘s what it is, a lot of times now when I appear, people wait for me to shut up so they can tell me their stories and I love hearing their stories because that’s what it’s all about. If I had the time I’d listen to every one of them, because everyone has a story and no one has the same story. Every story is different and has all the drama and intrigue, and espionage and happiness that any Hollywood movie would love to have. I really enjoy my life. I‘m at the peak of everything because I‘m not searching anymore but sharing.
I also heard that you not only enjoy smoking cannabis but you‘ve also got a big collection of seeds, is that true?
Yes, I started that a long time ago. I love seeds, seeds are very biblical, just think of the power that lies in one seed. One seed has the power to create a plant that would have so many flowers and so many birds and so much medicine, can you imagine? I love seeds, that’s my passion.
Do you know how many seeds you have now?
No. But I actually had to start my collection, again, because I grew all the seeds that I had. I had more than a handful of plants survive and that weed lasted me and my friends for over a year, almost two. So now I‘m going start growing plants that produce seeds. I want to start a seed garden with people that need something to do.
How is your business doing?
Chong‘s Choice is doing well, we‘re getting it rolling down the hill, getting it in motion, because there‘s a lot of restrictions and regulations we have to dance around, before it goes on full board, but every year, we get a little more organized and it‘s going real good. We’ve created a distribution system, where we connect the dispensaries with the growers and we put the best weed that we can find into Chong‘s Choice packages. These are packages of joints, you can get five into one package, and we also do it with oil, CBD oils, and chocolate. We‘re going to do wardrobe and merchandise, Chong‘s Choice merchandise. And I‘m about to embark on a Chong’s Choice art exhibit where I show up my art. I do oil paintings and sculptures, so I‘m going put those in an art show July 29th in Boulder, Colorado.
Are you planning to bring it to Europe? Because now we obviously have the medical options, so is your product medical or purely adult?
Right now, we‘re just feeling our way around Europe. I’ve been to Berlin but I’ve never been in an official capacity like promoting marihuana, it will be my first over there. But I love Europe, but I definitely have a soft spot for Amsterdam because that‘s where we shot our movie in the 80s and for a while that was the only place on earth where you could smoke like an adult. You go to the cafés and smoke. But I‘m looking forward to being part of the European discovery of the cannabis life.
The Canadian industry is very present here, and has the advantage that they can already ship the products here, so any thoughts on who is going to make the international race, the US or Canada?
It‘s hard to say, every state is trying to take care of its own now, you guys are closer to Africa than we are, and Afghanistan and India, that‘s where the mother plant came from. I mean yes, California and Canada, but it grows anywhere for anybody. But especially with solar and wind power, it‘s going to create cheap electricity so that you can have indoor growths everywhere and you probably have, I know you have over there.
After Europe, what do you think where will ICBC take you? Is that the ticket taking you through the world being an evangelist?
That would be nice, I‘m ready for it. We should get over to Australia, that‘s another weed-producing corner that is missing the boat because of strict laws, and Indonesia, where we do have to get rid of the death penalty for marihuana. But as I said, that’s all DEA stuff, the DEA spent billions of dollars making marihuana illegal all over the world, and now that should be undone and the DEA should be responsible for doing that. There‘s an island in the Pacific called Palau and they grow two crops a year, one to destroy it, they burn one crop so they get one million dollars a year from the DEA, and one crop to smoke the weed. Getting rid of that money being funneled into the electoral system is key. Those guys they get hooked on easy money, they‘re trying to keep pot illegal as long as they can, but they can‘t because there are too many good things happening.
You said you’re happy, you’re done, but tell me, what is the one thing you still want to accomplish?
I’m very happy where we are. I’m really blessed to be part of the people that brought this to life, this whole movement, and I‘m so proud to be up in this leadership position… But there is one thing, I would like: I want to smoke a joint with Paul McCartney. He’s the only Beatle I haven’t smoked a joint with. And maybe write a song with him.
Thank you Tommy for the time!